Trinidad and Tobago honours ‘nani’ to mark Indian Arrival Day

June 12th, 2012 - 2:41 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) Trinidad and Tobago marked the 167th anniversary of Indian Arrival Day - the day the first group of Indians reached Trinidad - by honouring Samoodarie Doon, an Indian immigrant who arrived in the Caribbean about a hundred years ago.

Samoondari Doon was felicitated and presented a memento by Trinidad Education Minister Dr. Time Goopeesingh at a ceremony hosted by the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturism at the National Archives in Port of Spain earlier this month.

An independent minded lady, Samoondarie expressed a wish to visit India after the felicitation ceremony was over. According to her grandson, Michael Salazar, she has never travelled outside Trinidad but a desire to see the country from where her mother had begun her journey to Trinidad still moves her.

“Nanny (nani - maternal grandmother) is in good health for her age. She can grow anything - she is an excellent gardener and loves to cook. She likes to meet new people and talk about the old times. She has seen a great deal of history,” Salazar told IANS in an email.

Samoondarie Doon was a 10-day old babe in her mother, Makhani’s arms, when she arrived in Trinidad. Samoondarie was born on the high seas on board the ship, SS Mutlah which was carrying a group of Indian indentured workers to Trinidad to work on the sugarcane plantations. The new born child was named after the ocean (samoondar). The SS Mutlah reached Nelson Island in Trinidad on Oct 14, 1912.

Samoondarie’s father, Baal Mohotam was a cook on the ship. He died during the voyage and was buried at sea. Makhani and Samoondarie had no one to take care of them when they reached Trinidad.

Colonial officials planned to send Makhani and her infant daughter back to India but Makhani decided to marry one of the Indian migrants who had travelled on the same boat. Makhani, her new husband and Samoondarie went to live at the Petit Morne Estate where the two adults completed their 5-year indenture contract.

Samoodarie recalls that her mother came from Patna and was from the kurmi caste. She remembers her mother telling her that the voyage was a difficult one as the sea was rough.

Samoondarie grew up at the Petit Morne Estate and studied at the Jordan Hill Presbyterian Primary School. She was 12 years of age when she was married to Doon and went to live in Broomage.

Samoondarie has two daughters and a son who died young. Samoondarie’s two daughters - Phyllis Doon-Drupatee and Monica Joseph-Bisson are both in their 70s. Samoondarie was 36 years of age when Doon passed away but she decided not to marry again. She has 10 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren.

She continued to work at the sugar factory and later moved back to St Charles and started a market garden. She planted her garden patch and sold the vegetables at the nearby San Fernando market till the ripe old age of 80 when she broke her hip.

Micheal Salazar, son of Samoondarie’s daughter, Phyllis said that life was tough in the islands for a widow left with two young daughters. Samoondarie recalled that she was working at the sugar factory when Trinidad got its independence in 1962 and she started a vegetable garden to supplement her income.

Salazar has researched his grandmother’s life history and discovered several interesting facts. It was just recently that the family found that Samoondarie’s birthday falls on Oct 4. “We plan to have a grand celebration for Nanny,” Salazar said.

(Shubha Singh can be contacted at shubhasingh101@gmail.com)

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